Friday, March 1, 2024

The Day After

I remember when I was in school, maybe about 10 years of age, we were told one day that under no circumstances were we to watch a film called ‘The Day After’ which was going to be shown on the BBC that night.

It was about nuclear war and of course the fact that we were told not to watch it meant every single one of us watched it. They thought, I suppose, that it would be too scary for us to consider the possibility of what World War III would bring, and how mankind and civilisation would be ruined. I wonder now do they give such warnings to youngsters about transfer deadline day.

The football landscape this morning is barren, the charred corpses of Arsenal fans caught in their death throes, the grimaces, the clenched fists, the dust made up of all the hopes and dreams for a new season. Ok, maybe I’m overplaying it here a little bit but anyone that denies there’s a palpable sense of frustration is somebody who avoided all online discourse yesterday and you, you lucky people, you are probably the sensible ones.

Does it comes as any real surprise that we didn’t buy? If you asked me on Monday I’d have said yes, as yesterday drew closer and there were no links with any players then it seemed somewhat inevitable. If you’d asked me after we sold van Persie and Song if we’d bring in players I’d have confidently said yes, by 5pm yesterday it would have been more surprising to me than finding out Phil Collins was my real dad just after he’d chopped my hand off with a lightsaber. The prick.

Arsene said we were in the market but the signs were there. He talked of having the players in place to replace Song after his sale to Barcelona, while revealing that the signings of Giroud and Podolski were made to fill the chocolate legged gap left by Robin van Persie. And on the face of it the summer looks like two first team players gone, three first team players in. Song and van Persie out, Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski to replace them.

We look ok defensively, I think we have the players in place to last the season and perform well. Although midfield seems light after selling Song there’s still Arteta, Diaby, Coquelin, Ramsey, Wilshere, Frimpong, Rosicky and Cazorla to choose from. Yes, there’s much dependent on some of those players getting fit and staying fit and the manager is obviously looking for someone like Coquelin to step up and mature further.

Our attacking options are Giroud, Podolski, Chamakh, Arshavin, Gervinho, and Walcott with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain an option not just for the wide positions but also the centre of midfield as pre-season showed. And while I have my doubts about the ability of some of these players to produce the goals we need, those doubts clearly aren’t shared by a manager who, more than any other, likes to stockpile attacking options.

As a squad, right now, I think we’re in pretty decent shape. We do need to start scoring and we need to find a balance in midfield which allows us to be more creative, but as it stands I don’t think that’s a bad group of players at all. We have to allow some room for the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain to grow and fulfill his potential and, frankly, if he’s not one of the first names on the team sheet by the end of the season I will eat my (beef wellington) hat.

But, and here it comes, I’m not convinced this is a squad that can compete for the title and that is where the frustration kicks in. I felt we needed a couple of quality additions to really last the pace this season and while I think we’ll be closer to the leaders than we were last season I’m just not confident that we can go the distance with the players that we have. You have no idea how happy I’d be to proved wrong there, and being wrong about stuff is something I’m very good at, but looking at the others and what they have to choose from makes me dubious.

Yes, you can only put 11 players on the pitch at any time but having a large squad with some depth in can make all the difference. Arsene clearly sees Podolski as a central striker now. That is the only reason I can think of to explain why he didn’t buy another forward. If Giroud is out then the German will play in that role, or vice versa, but it only takes a small knock here and a suspension there and our only option is Marouane Chamakh, a player whose contribution in the last 20 months is one goal. And although there are mitigating circumstances for that, it’s hard to feel confident he’ll ever find the form he showed when he first arrived at the club.

There is now a huge onus on wide players to produce. Walcott and Gervinho have their strengths but have to be less wasteful. Andrei Arshavin has the talent and craft to offer something different but does he have the will or the application to deliver? The Russian’s sedentary football style is a huge shame because there’s enough ability there if he only had the desire to make it happen. He looks less fat this season though, so I’m clinging to the vain hope he’s more focused than he was. Hey, I’m desperate!

The midfield, on paper, looks all right but it’s dependent on keeping players like Diaby, and to a much lesser extent Frimpong, injury free and ensuring that Jack Wilshere returns and stays fit. We’re asking Mikel Arteta to do a job and he’s doing it wonderfully well but when you go a couple of games without a goal you have to ask if this is the best use of his talent. Time will tell in that regard.

So while on paper this squad looks ok it feels a bit like it’s held together with masking tape and bits of old twine. Until we can see this group of players win games, stay fit and start to click with one another people will remain unconvinced. It’s hard to think we’re stronger than last season. We’re different, that’s for sure, and maybe different is what we needed. For all the quality that van Persie had he was a serial non-achiever with Arsenal. Maybe that’s why he left, maybe that’s why we let him go.

Yet the frustration this morning comes not because we’ve gone through another transfer window having made a profit, but because we have resources available to us that we refuse to use for the benefit of the team. For the most part nobody’s asking for marquee signings, to go raid clubs for superstar names, or anything like that, but for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger – who ultimately makes all the decisions regarding transfers and the playing squad – to make the best of what we have.

We’re not the world’s richest club but we’re not poor either. We have, or should I say, had, transfer funds available. Yes, we brought in three players, and three players I hope will turn out to be good purchases, but you can’t convince people we’ve really invested in our team when we’ve turned another transfer window profit. It’s become a cliche at this point but the money in the bank isn’t going to score us any goals or make any assists.

Some will say that if we’d signed Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla yesterday we’d be feeling a lot different this morning which is true to an extent but imagine how frustrated we’d have been until then? And although we’d be happy with the arrivals we’d be asking, correctly, why such business was being left so late. It looked as if this was a summer in which we changed our ways, and dipping into the transfer market early was a good thing, but in the end we’ve kept players whose contributions were minimal last time around and failed to build on the excellent platform we gave ourselves because of those early signings.

The only reason I can think of that we didn’t sign any more players is because Arsene feels this squad is good enough to win the title, good enough to compete with the best clubs in Europe in the Champions League and manage two domestic cup competitions. Although well publicised links with players like Sahin and Mirallas (who chose Everton over us) suggests he’d have liked a little more depth. Why that couldn’t have been found elsewhere is a mystery to me, but I guess we’ll never know.

It seems high stakes stuff from a manager who must know that there won’t be much in the way of forgiveness if results don’t bear out his faith in this group of players. If we beat Liverpool on Sunday the mood will lighten, and rightly so, but it’s a difficult game and with big-spending Man City and Chelsea to play before the end of October, his faith, and their quality, will be well and truly tested.

I hope he’s right, I hope this squad can gel and fight and work hard for each other and start building on the solid defensive platform we seem to have created (although it’s early days there). Winning games is the only way to answer critics, but it feels like every dropped point is going to produce an inquisition which will all come back to our reluctance to go for it, even a little bit, in the transfer market.

Still, what’s done is done, this is the squad we have until January at least and we have to hope that they can click, stay injury free (because we really don’t have the required depth in some places), and produce results which are of the level expected from Arsenal Football Club. As I said, I think it’s a good squad but it could have been made a very good squad. Perhaps that bit extra can come from the new arrivals or a couple of youngsters who’ll really take their chance in the season ahead.

Whatever happens, the footballing decisions are made by one man and one man only, he knows that, he knows we know that, and he will stand or fall on them. Over to you, Arsene.

Ins: Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski – £37m

Outs: Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Carlos Vela, Henri Lansbury, Kyle Bartley – £44m

Loans: Nicklas Bendtner (Juventus), Ju Young Park (Celta Vigo), Ryo Miyaichi (Wigan), Benik Afobe (Bolton)

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